Like a Thief in the Night

Heritage Presbyterian Church

August 7, 2022
9th Sunday after Pentecost

Scripture reading – Luke 12: 35-40

When the Lord described his Second Coming, that great getting-up morning that will happen one day, he used a very effective figure of speech, a simile: “The Lord would return like a thief in the night.”  Since thieves have been around all of human history, people of every time and place understand this.

So, let’s begin today’s message with three brief stories of thieves who came in the night:

Thief #1: A New Jersey couple woke up to a loud commotion after a burglar tried to break in through a back door in their home. As the homeowners investigated the noise, they surprised the would-be thief who was already on the second floor of their residence. Startled, the thief dove through the window and onto a roof before jumping to the ground. The homeowners chased him through the yard before he hopped over the fence and ran down the street, seeming to get away clean.

But while the thief was hiding, he tried to call a getaway car through the Lyft ride-share app. Once he ordered his ride, the thief made his way to the street and approached an unmarked police car he thought was his ride. Realizing his mistake, the thief tried to run, but the authorities were able to arrest him without a problem. [[]

Thief #2: In 2014, a Minnesota man broke into a Minneapolis home one night, stealing credit cards, cash, and a watch. Before leaving the home, the thief decided to use the computer to log on to his Facebook – but forgot to sign out.

When the homeowner returned, he found his front door unlocked, a missing window screen…and a stranger’s Facebook account open on his computer.

Realizing what had happened, the homeowner shared a picture of the thief on his profile and asked for anyone with information to call him.

Later that evening, the thief actually texted the homeowner and agreed to meet up hoping to rob the homeowner of more goods and valuables. At their meeting, the homeowner had already called the police, who arrested the thief on the spot.


Thief #3: A pastor from Tennessee was caught on a security camera trying to break into the home of one of his parishioners.

It’s not the prison-heading pastor’s first pass with the law; he had a nasty drug habit that was hard to break, and he had been busted before for burglary.  This thief was already on probation after pleading guilty in 2011 to aggravated burglary; he managed to avoid a four-year prison sentence by begging a judge for mercy, forgiveness and a chance to treat his addiction.

His victim was a 70-year-old spitfire named Jewel, who was quoted saying, “I opened the back door and there he stood in the kitchen. I grabbed him by his shirt, and I said, ‘I got you now, you ain’t goin’ nowhere,'” she said. “He kept saying, ‘Jewel, let me go.’ I said, ‘No! You stole my medicine.'”  Lucky for Jewel, the pill-popping pastor wasn’t violent because he gave up and waited quietly for the police to arrive. []

Obviously, if any homeowner anywhere knows when a thief will come to rob their homes, that homeowner would be prepared.  That might look like any of the following:

  • Heavy-duty locks and strike plates on all exterior doors
  • Purchasing a weapon and learning how to use it properly
  • Closing all curtains and blinds
  • Getting any type of dog
  • Changing out regular window glass for unbreakable glass 
  • Leaving a stereo or a television on
  • Leaving various lights on, especially outdoors
  • Cutting back shrubs and plants near doors or windows
  • Installing a burglar alarm system.

These strategies may not be completely perfect, but they would make that house a lot harder for a thief to successfully rob.  Most experts will agree that this type of house sends a signal that any would-be thief should check around for something else that’s a little easier to enter.

When the Lord is using this figure of speech “like a thief in the night” to describe his Second Coming, it is an extremely accurate, easily-imagined scenario that everyone could understand.  It comes down to this: be prepared or get surprised.  The underlying message here is that no one wants to be surprised – especially if it can be easily avoided.

Another point Jesus is making here is to point out that the “like thief in the night” phrase should only apply to unbelievers.  For believers in Jesus, for those who try their best to live as loving and confessing Christians, the Second Coming is nothing to fear.  And why should Christians not be absolutely terrified?  Because they want to see Jesus, see his face, not run and hide from him. Wanting to face Him is part of being prepared, so that the Second Coming will not be something filled with terror, fear of judgment, and dread of being cast into the Pit of Hell for all eternity. 

And yet…how many preachers over the years have made their reputations on terrifying their congregations into believing in a frightening, angry, wrathful God?  A God who watches their every move, just waiting for one slip, one mistake, one…SIN in order to condemn that lying, filthy, low-down, miserable, unforgiven SINNER?

I think many preachers have done this and continue to do this.  Back in the mid 1770’s, Rev. Jonathan Edwards, preached the same sermon hundreds of times over; his message, called “Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God” was designed to frighten any congregation who heard it into immediately IMMEDIATELY renouncing their sins and turning back – always turning back – to the only entity powerful enough to keep them from the fiery pit – the Lord God Almighty.  Whenever Edwards would preach that sermon, the people hearing it would shriek, fall on their knees on the floor, and even faint dead away – both women and men.  Small wonder that Edwards was invited to deliver this carefully woven message so many times.  

The problem, as I see it in light of today’s sermon title, is that Edwards almost seemed to indicate that even being prepared wasn’t good enough.  He seemed to be warning his listeners of that thief in the night who was coming – but that thief was coming to steal their mortal souls!  And there was little they could do about it!

Not the way I like to preach…not the message I like to bring.

But don’t miss what I’m saying today.  Being prepared, as Jesus taught us, is the wise thing to do, the smart thing to do, even the loving thing to do.  For if the servant truly loves and admires the master, that servant will do all he or she can to be ready for the master’s return – no matter when it occurs.  That servant loves the master so much that disappointing him is the worst thing a servant could do.

Jesus taught us to be ready…and he also told us the following:

  • “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.” [1st Corinthians 16:13]
  • “Therefore, keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.” [Matthew 25:13]
  • The parable of the ten virgins – five were ready and five were not.  When the groom appeared, those who were not ready were locked out of the feast. [Matthew 25:1-46]

And what did Jesus tell us and his followers so many, many times?  “Don’t be afraid.”

If I know a thief is coming to break into my house, I will be prepared.

If I DON’T know that a thief is coming to break into my house, I will still be prepared.

And because only the Father knows when the Son will return, I will do my very best to be prepared all the time.

Because he will return quickly, suddenly, and without warning… like a thief in the night.